2009 Nissan GT-R
2009 Nissan GT-R Expert Review:Autoblog
Nissan recently granted Autoblog four fleeting days with a red 2009 Nissan GT-R. While it seems every major automotive outlet has tested "Godzilla" on the track (including our First Drive), we chose instead to keep it on the streets to see if one of the world's most powerful and fastest accelerating cars could be domesticated by stop-and-go traffic, family errands, and carpool duty. Of course, we only stuck to that routine for a day or two... the rest of the time was spent on the famed canyon roads of Southern California. Follow the jump to read about our 100-hour experience in the Nissan GT-R and don't miss what very well may be the most beautiful gallery of high-res images we've ever published courtesy of our own Drew Phillips and all ready to become your next desktop wallpaper.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
A light plane crash-landed a few hundred yards from our office within minutes after we took delivery of the GT-R. The injury-free emergency landing left the plane wrinkled and upside down in a big open field, easily viewed from the busy freeway. With emergency vehicles converging, conditions were perfect to draw a crowd of onlookers. Naturally, we jumped into the just-arrived GT-R for the drive down the block to check things out.
When we pulled up, the small crowd that had gathered to gawk at the wreck turned around and looked at us... Within minutes, we had a handful of people crawling all over the distinctive Datsun. An Infiniti G37 owner stopped and jumped out of his car. A Porsche GT2 driver did the same. Teenagers sent text messages to their friends and snapped pics on their mobiles, while others took their turn in the driver's seat pretending they were living their Gran Turismo dream. We stood there stupefied that people would choose to stare at, and photograph, a Nissan over the battered aircraft in the dusty field just yards away. Little did we realize that the attention the Nissan was drawing foreshadowed our instant celebrityhood now that we held the keys to the hot new GT-R.
Nissan's GT-R is about as physically discreet as a bikini-clad Pamela Anderson. Our particular GT-R, in "Solid Red" over black leather, damn-near stopped traffic. We've never piloted another car, not even a bright-red Ferrari, that mesmerized as many sets of eyes. Scores of adults and teenagers waved and gave us thumbs-up, while the smallest of children pointed in awe. Far from sleek and sexy, the angular GT-R evokes a Transformer-like aura that transcends ages. Muscular shoulder proportions, an angular greenhouse, and four exaggerated exhaust cannons in the rear forge a styling statement that screams "I'm going to kick ass" to anyone within view. Thankfully, the Nissan's bite is every bit as angry as its visual bark.
Under the aluminum hood sits a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V6, reportedly making 480 hp. Power is sent though a rear-mounted six-speed dual-clutch transmission before being routed to all four wheels through Nissan's ATTESA ET-S all-wheel drive system. Even with a chunky curb weight of about 3,900 lbs, the GT-R rockets to 60 mph in about 3.4 seconds (leaving little doubt that Nissan is being very conservative with their power claims). In the real world, the dual-clutch transmission is jerky and cumbersome until you hit about 5 mph. At that point all the gears and clutches feel in sync, and the power at your right foot is just plain crazy. Indescribable neck-bending acceleration is but a half-inch press of the gas pedal away. The car is so bloody-fast that GT-R owners may never sit at a stoplight next to another vehicle that can out-accelerate them beyond legal speeds.
For all of its prodigious power, the engine is surprisingly muted. At idle or low speeds, you can hear the grumble from the exhaust pipe, but you'd swear the Infiniti G37 sounds throatier. As engine speed increases, the exhaust is overtaken by more mechanical sounds. At redline, any sound coming out of the four oversized exhaust pipes has been replaced by the wail of turbochargers, intake noises, transmission whine, differential whirring, and an odd aural assortment of mechanics. It's not F1-inspired like a Ferrari, intimidating like a Corvette, or silky like a BMW. The sound of a GT-R at full wail is vociferous. Hardly recognizable, but other drivers know they simply must get out of its way.
Feeling evil, we ran the GT-R on the same Southern California roads that hosted our Porsche Cayman S just weeks prior, fully expecting the very tight and technical corners to throw the heavyweight Nissan off balance. We couldn't have been more wrong. While the six-speed Porsche delicately sliced its way from corner to corner without breaking a sweat, the GT-R was much more brutal in its approach. The harder we pushed, the better it got. In full "R-mode" the GT-R would scream into corners carrying far too much momentum. Just when we thought it was too late, the massive brakes would bleed the speed so we could flick the steering wheel around the bend. Stabbing the throttle into the carpet, the rears would break free for just a few feet while the back end came around. Milliseconds later, the fronts would hook-up and drag all 3,900 pounds to the next corner in lightning speed. While most overpowered exotics never fail to remind the driver of their quirks (usually at the most inopportune times), the GT-R follows every request the driver commands. The Nissan quickly inspired the type of confidence that could make a poor driver look good, and a good driver look great.
Developed and proven at the track, the GT-R can be tamed. Late one afternoon, we sat through 85 miles of Los Angeles traffic with the transmission in "Auto" and the suspension on "Comfort". With the exception of the clunky gearbox at low speeds, the GT-R was as docile as an Altima. If we didn't acknowledge the throngs of passers-by who were taking pictures of the car, it was easy to forget about the twin-turbochargers, sophisticated AWD powertrain, and launch control. That was reassuring, but it also made us a bit uneasy. In a Ferrari, or Porsche for that matter, the harsh ride and idiosyncrasies always remind the driver of the mission. The GT-R, so brilliantly engineered to drive 10/10ths, was a soft-spoken pussycat.
Sitting behind the wheel of the split-personality beast, even the tallest drivers will feel comfortable. While most vehicles of this performance level require driver compromise (most often at the expense of left leg position), our six-foot two-inch frame found the GT-R amazingly roomy. We put one, two, and three passengers into the GT-R. With the exception of one crazy six-footer who found himself in the token back seats (hey, he offered to sit anywhere for a ride), adults will not find the rear seats accommodating. A jaunt to the neighborhood pre-school proved forward facing child seats will fit back there – and it established that the GT-R will draw stares from diaper-clad three-year-old toddlers as well.
In typical Nissan fashion, the driver and passenger seats are not identical. The driver gets an amazingly comfortable, yet incredibly supportive, multi-position bucket, while the passenger receives a similar seat with fewer adjustments. Visibility out of the GT-R can be an issue. Anything behind the driver's left ear is hidden by the thick B- and C-pillar (that tiny window is useless). Thankfully, the exterior mirrors are large and offer a generous view of the outside world. Backing up is downright dangerous -- we often feared flattening one of the numerous GT-R groupies checking out the tail end. A reverse camera with parking sensors would be a prudent option.
Of course we tried "Launch Control." Flip a few switches and slide a few levers, all in perfect sequence, and a fully depressed gas pedal will bring the engine to a steady 4,500 rpm. Side-step the brake and a second goes by... tic... and then... BAAAAAM! The rear tires spin a bit while the fronts just cleanly hook up. Your neck snaps back as the car rips, claws, and tears at the pavement. Don't forget to shift, about once per second, as the GT-R screams to part the atmosphere. When the time comes to reign in the gargoyle, massive Brembo brakes – 15-inch rotors in the front chomped by 6-piston calipers – bring nearly two tons of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber to a stop without any drama. It goes brutally fast. It stops just as violently. It is so much fun.
Now, in the real world, all of this excitement will cost you more than just the $71,000 MSRP -- plus the almost inevitable dealer mark-up. The GT-R has an insatiable appetite for refined liquid dinosaur (we don't know what type of pussy-footed pansy squeezed out the EPA's fuel efficiency numbers of 16 city/21 highway), so for the record, this glorious red GT-R drank three tanks of high-test gasoline and a quart of synthetic oil under our watch. The first two tanks were consumed at the rate of 11.68 mpg and 11.71 mpg. The last went down at a more leisurely 16.42 mpg. Yeah, that was mostly highway driving. Obviously, brutal does not equate to frugal.
Four days with the GT-R did reveal a few irritants, but none are difficult fixes. The steering ratio is about perfect, but we frequently found ourselves (mid-corner!) removing a hand to find the transmission paddle to grab the next gear. The shift paddles need to be yanked off the tree and affixed to the wheel (like Ferrari does it) and the exhaust note could use some serious attention. Countless onlookers asked us to "rev the engine" as they eagerly anticipated a noise that would send chills up their spine. Their hopes were shattered as the bright red GT-R could only whimper like an asthmatic Maxima.
On day four, when Nissan arrived to recover their GT-R, we had mixed emotions. Part of us would miss the celebrity-like allure that drew crowds each time we ventured out of the driveway (the next time Britney Spears wants to drive unnoticed down Pacific Coast Highway, she only needs to hire a red GT-R to run in the next lane), the other half looked forward to welcoming back our real-life anonymity.
Nissan engineers have successfully delivered a nauseatingly fast vehicle that devours acceleration and track records. Its handling belies its weight, and its cabin is deceptively comfortable. Yet, however absurdly amazing the Nissan was, we found ourselves continuously looking for its soul. We wanted to find a bad habit, an ill mannerism, a vulnerability that would prove the car was mortal. Instead, we were met with methodical and highly accurate electronic systems that double-checked our every move to deliver exactly what our human inputs were requesting. Curiously, each time the push-button starter would fire the engine, the incessant feedback the GT-R offered to us was robot-like mechanized perfection.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
With only 20 miles separating us from North Lake Tahoe, it's obvious that I hadn't secured the hood of our Super Silver Nissan GT-R after poking and prodding inside the engine bay. The left side of the bonnet is raised about a quarter-inch and flapping slightly at speed, so we pull off into a newborn subdivision to slam it shut. I step back inside and catch a glimpse of a silver Corvette in the side view mirror. The telltale air intake on the front bumper confirms that the man behind the wheel is an aficionado; it's a C6 Z06 and there's no doubt the driver knows what the GT-R is.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
"That's the third one I've seen today," our new friend points out, "What's going on?" I explain that we're doctors of journalism heading out to Reno/Fernley Raceway to wring out the GT-R with the rest of the hacks. "That thing is so over-hyped. Let's see what it can do." With only a few seconds to calibrate my moral compass, he begins counting down. "Three, two, one, GO!" He takes off with a minimum of wheel spin and I lay into the throttle about a half second too late. The GT-R bogs slightly off the line (no time for launch control) and then rockets towards the horizon in chase.
My lame launch put us about ten feet off the Z06's bumper, and with the throttle pegged to the floor, the rear-mounted, dual-clutch gear box runs through the ratios in full automatic mode. Our necks are jolted back at each shift and we can feel our spines forming a valley in the suede-covered buckets. You know the stats; you can do the math. The Z06 is around 3,100 pounds and comes packing 505 hp. The GT-R is down 25 horsepower and is almost 700 pounds heavier. But in defiance of the laws of physics, the distance between us never changes. And it continues down our imaginary quarter-mile before we brake simultaneously and make a quick left into a row of homes to talk shop and take a few photos. "The guys on the 'Vette forum aren't going to believe this," Rich says as he snaps away on his disposable camera. "It's way faster than I would've thought."
This same scenario will be played out in a hundred different cities at a hundred different traffic lights when customers finally begin taking delivery of the 2,000 Nissan GT-Rs bound for the U.S. this summer. After years of speculation, spy shots, rumors, lies and nail-biting anticipation, the GT-R is finally here, and make no mistake, it's epic.
We started our trek outside Incline Village on the northern side of Lake Tahoe and made our way through the sparsely populated towns that dot the Nevada landscape. The mixture of minimalist urban areas, mind-numbing desert expanses and undulating roads provided us with just enough time to get acquainted with the GT-R's road-going civility and techy toys before we arrived at the track.
First impression: "This thing is chunky." You can deride the GT-R's styling if you must -- and it certainly isn't pretty -- but it's purposeful. Nissan spent two years in the wind tunnel refining the GT-R's shape to achieve a Cd of .27. Every crease, bulge and kink is there for an explicit purpose. The "aero-blades" on the fenders optimize airflow around the tires and the front fascia, vents and C-pillar work in concert with the underbody diffuser and spoiler to provide maximum down force at speed.
But the GT-R's shape proves the old adage that beauty isn't skin deep. The 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 is, in Nissan's own words, a tour de force. Making 480 hp at 6,400 RPM and 430 lb.-ft. of torque between 3,200 and 5,200 RPM, the engine works double duty – pure efficiency and utter insanity. The VR38DETT is hand built by a single technician in a climate-controlled clean room after the bores are plasma-sprayed to reduce friction and increase cooling. The symmetrically independent intake and exhaust plumbing is shortened for efficiency and the dual IHI turbos are practically married to the exhaust ports on the head. And with a thermostatically controlled oil cooling system, complete with a scavenger pump maintaining oil pressure to the turbos, no amount of lateral Gs will keep the slippery stuff from getting where it needs to be. All that, and it still gets a ULEV rating.
As impressive as the engine is, the transmission, chassis and all-wheel-drive system left us in awe. As you're already aware, Nissan developed its first dual-clutch gearbox for use in the GT-R, with six speeds available through either the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or automatically controlled by the computer (shifts take place in .2-seconds when in "R" mode). The engine sends power to a carbon fiber driveshaft and on to the rear-mounted gearbox, while another steel driveshaft is mounted to the right (underneath the passenger side) and can send up to 50-percent of the torque to the front wheels when the ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive computer senses a loss of grip. The system has more sensors than the FCC, with one keeping track of steering angle, another monitoring lateral and transverse acceleration, plus systems that keep tabs on speed, tire slip, road surface and yaw rate, and then dolling out power as it sees fit. Otherwise, 100-percent of the power is delivered to the rear – exactly as God intended.
We were surprised that Nissan didn't employ a traditional torque tube to house the main drive shaft and mate the engine to the transmission. According to the Nissan crew, the motor and tranny mounts, along with the cross members, are so stiff that utilizing a torque tube would have upset the balance of the vehicle when powering out of corners.
Once Hal deems a wheel, or wheels, worthy of motivation, power is sent to 20-inch rollers, sized 9.5-inches wide up front and 10.5-inches in the rear. Nissan tapped its long-time partner, Rays Engineering, to supply the hoops, and made it a point to include bead knurling on the inside of the wheels to prevent the tires from shifting under high cornering loads – something that was apparently a problem while testing at the Nurburgring. The nitrogen-filled, Bridgestone run-flats we used on our drive are the same tires found on the Premium model, but Dunlops are standard and Nissan will be offering Blizzaks if you decide to test out the Snow setting on the ATTESA system.
As with the engine and transmission, the suspension is another masterpiece of modern automotive engineering. The GT-R is suspended by independent double-wishbones in the front and a multi-link rear setup, and uses a model-specific version of Bilstein's DampTronic system (similar to that used on Porsches) that provides even more information for the computer to sort out when pushing the GT-R to the limits.
The interior, like the exterior, is form following function. The thrones are incredibly comfortable and provide some serious bolstering, although we noticed that the driver seat might be a bit wider than the passenger seat. The rear seats certainly looked nice, but the absolutely laughable rear legroom prevented us from even considering spending time out back.
With our right foot on the brake, we pressed the red start/stop button mounted on the center console, heard a barely audible whine under the unenthusiastic hum of the V6 and then slotted the gear selector into drive. All the controls -- the paddle shifters, steering wheel-mounted switches, climate dials and in-car computer buttons -- are clearly marked and easy to read. Overall, the switchgear has a crisp feel, but you never forget that you're still in a Nissan. Some of the plastics aren't top-shelf, and the HVAC knobs lack any kind of tactility, but most of the materials were better than expected and the leather inserts on the dash, doors and center console did their best to elevate the rest of the interior. But honestly, we just don't care. Bigger things are on the horizon and we're still an hour away from the track.
Our first sampling of the GT-R's prodigious thrust came a few minutes before our showdown with the Z06. A line of cars strung along by an octogenarian in a PT Cruiser going 15 mph under the speed limit threatened to separate us from the rest of the GT-R parade. We grabbed the paddle shifter once, twice and then a third time, confirmed the number "3" on the dash-mounted gear display and then squeezed the throttle. The revs were already on boil by the time we blew past the first car in the convoy; then the second, the third, the fourth, gear change, the sixth and then grandpa was a speck in our rear-view mirror. The whole maneuver lasted all of seven seconds, and at no point did we feel like the GT-R was breaking a sweat. On the other hand, we temporarily lost the will to breathe. It was the kind of visceral immediacy we've only experienced in a handful of vehicles that cost twice as much and come equipped with far more drama.
The weighting of the steering wheel was one of the first things that struck us. It's heavy, but not daunting, and it matches the bulky feeling the GT-R conveys through the seat. It feels planted and composed on the road -- more grand-tourer than apex assassin. And then we hit the first set of curves and our preconceptions vanished. The GT-R still felt heavy, but hardly ponderous. The steering was precise and immediate, and it was obvious that there was plenty of power in reserve as we climbed through the hills. Our pace quickened, our confidence grew and then as quickly as that superb bit of tarmac began, it ended and we were back on the highway enjoying a suspension on the firm side of bearable.
When we finally arrived at Reno/Fernley, about 20 minutes late after our aforementioned indiscretion, the track reps were already giving their presentation. After making sure we understood the layout and wouldn't test the limits of their liability insurance, we were out on the track getting the lay of the land.
The course was technical, with a couple of chicanes, a few low-speed turns, off-camber corners and several high-speed sweepers that would cause any car to lose its composure unless driver inputs were smooth and consistent.
During our first three-lap stint, we took it relatively easy, braking early, accelerating smoothly and generally taking our time as we tried to find the line. By the second go-'round, our pace had increased, our confidence had grown and it was obvious that we were about to screw the proverbial pooch. And we did. With the Race mode engaged on the dampers and transmission, we barreled down the back straight, eventually hitting fourth gear and braking woefully late for a quick left and right. The GT-R scrubbed off as much speed as it could with two wheels barely contacting the tarmac and then we laid into the throttle, hoping to power out of the bend. Understeer. Loads of it. With the wheel almost locked to the right, we slid 15 feet towards the curbing on our left. A quick lift off the throttle, a correction on the wheel and we were back on line heading into the steep banking of turn seven. We pulled off into the pits to reassess everything we held dear about the advanced electronics and their role with our ham fists at the wheel. We had to learn from the best, so we walked over to the only red GT-R in attendance, sat down in the passenger's seat and introduced ourselves to Steve Millen.
If you don't know Steve Millen, look it up. In short, the man's a racing and tuning legend and knows as much about Nissan as Mr. K himself. "You ready?" Millen asks as I double-check the strap on my helmet. "Definitely," I reply, as the corner worker gives us a wave onto the track.
Millen lays into the long pedal and sets up for the first slight right. He almost clips the apex cone and then heads up the hill into turn two with the right tires inches away from the desert sands that surround the track. He lifts, down shifts and chucks the wheel to the left, countersteering slightly while applying judicious amounts of throttle. We rocket out of the corner and up into the chicane at the top of the hill. A quick yank to the left, then the right and he's back on the power grabbing one gear after another as we eat up the back straight and head into the bends that eluded me minutes earlier. The massive Brembos are applied within an inch of their life and the only thing stopping my heart from landing on the dashboard is the seat belt across my chest. He flicks the wheel left, gives it a touch of gas, and then yanks the wheel right and powers out, tracking smoothly to the curbing. It's obvious now. The GT-R must be manhandled. After two more laps with Mr. M, I get back behind the wheel with my newfound knowledge and give it another go.
This time, it all clicks. My lines are cleaner, my brake points are well defined and my steering inputs are much sharper, but hardly as smooth. For a vehicle on the high side of two tons, the GT-R is eminently chuckable. Come into a corner, brake late, yank the wheel in the desired direction, start feeding in the throttle and then boot it – let the electronics sort out the rest. It's a revelatory machine and there's nothing on the road that can even come close for the money.
And that may have been the biggest revelation. The Nissan GT-R maxes out the bang-for-the-buck quotient like no other vehicle, but does so in a way that will only appeal to a select group of drivers. Whereas the similarly priced Z06 is the culmination of decades of refining the traditional FR arrangement, the GT-R takes everything Nissan knows about physics and speed and condenses it into a cohesive package that changes your very perception about what's possible behind the wheel. It won't bend the space-time continuum, but it comes closer than anything before it. And like the Skyline GT-Rs of yore, it has the potential to revolutionize everything we as drivers hold dear.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new performance car instant hit in America.
Nissan has been selling the Skyline in Japan for almost 20 years, long enough that the first one to make it to the U.S. officially is the fifth generation. This fifth-generation of the affordable supercar comes to America as the Nissan GT-R, retailing for about $70,000.
The Nissan GT-R boasts performance of far more expensive cars. Its super slick, all-wheel-drive dutifully and invisibly channels the engine's 480 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque to whichever tires offer the most grip. This is most remarkable when enlisted in the Launch Control algorithm, which lets drivers make like Michael Schumacher in their own Stop Light Grands Prix. A twin-clutch, sequential-shifting, six-speed manumatic transaxle is competitive with the best prancing horse logoed car's and the equal of or better than the best of either Stuttgart or Munich.
This car is so good, so much fun to drive, whether slogging and, when the opportunity presents, darting through rush hour traffic or blurring telephone poles on empty back roads.
The GT-R comes with every comfort and convenience a driver and passenger need, and most of what a driver and passenger could want. The sports car-like cabin is climate controlled. The navigation system responds to voice commands. Behind the navigation system's LCD lie 11 pages of data, graphs and virtual gauges that tell the tale on more of the car's dynamics than most drivers can, or want to, be bothered knowing. All this makes even the infernal red start/stop button that takes the place of a perfectly functional key tolerable. At least, most of the time.
Nissan plans to sell about 2400 GT-Rs through 700 specially certified Nissan dealers, a super car fully homologated and certified to U.S. safety and emission standards and ready for everyday use just like any other Nissan the dealer sells. But that's about the extent of the similarities between this ultra-refined supercar and the Altimas, Versas, Maximas and, yes, 350Zs that yearn to share a little of the GT-R's glow. The time may come, if Nissan survives as a major player in the U.S. market despite the shrinking new car market and some not-so-minor missteps by its French management, that the GT-R will be seen not just a stupendous achievement as a legitimate entry in the supercar ranks, but also as nothing less than the salvation of the brand. One car gave that kind of spark to Datsun. The GT-R may for Nissan.
The Nissan GT-R comes in one body style, a two-door, 2+2 quasi-coupe. There's also but one powertrain offered, a twin-turbocharged, 3.6-liter V6 driving all four wheels through a six-speed, twin-clutch, sequential-shifting, automated-manual transaxle. Shifts are managed either by computer or by steering column-mounted magnesium paddle shifters.
The 2009 Nissan GT-R comes in two trim levels. The standard GT-R ($69,850) doesn't lack for much: Dual-zone, automatic climate control, cruise control, power mirrors, windows and locks, eight-way adjustable driver's seat and four-way adjustable front passenger seat, AM/FM/XM/CD stereo with MP3 and WMA playback and six speakers, 30GB hard disk that supports voice recognition, seven-inch color-LCD, GPS-based navigation system with 9.3 GB for personalized audio tracks, dash-mounted Compact Flash card reader, Bluetooth phone system for hands-free operation. Run-flat summer compound Dunlop tires wrap around high-luster, smoke-gray, aluminum alloy wheels.
The GT-R Premium model ($71,900) adds heated front seats, a Bose audio system with 11 speakers, including two subwoofers stacked vertically in a panel separating the rear seats, and run-flat summer Bridgestones.
Options include the Cold Weather Package (no charge) with all-season Dunlop tires on bright silver wheels and a 50/50 coolant mix. The Super Silver special paint ($3000) is hand-polished before receiving three clearcoats. An iPod converter ($360) and GT-R floor mats ($280) can be installed at port of entry or by the dealer.
Safety features that come standard include pre-tensioners on the front three-point belts; pre-tensioners on the rear seat three-point seat belts; dual-stage frontal airbags. Active safety features include antilock brakes that let the driver steer during a panic stop; brake assist, which reads the way the driver hits the brake pedal to quicken the system's response in emergencies; and electronic brake-force distribution, which optimizes front/rear brake balance for what a computer decides is the quickest, best-controlled stop in all conditions; traction control, which minimizes wheel spin during acceleration; and Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control system, which monitors various yaw sensors in an effort to keep the car going where it should go. A tire pressure monitoring system comes standard. Optional are torso-protecting front seat-mounted side impact airbags and the head-preserving roof-mounted side air curtains, which come on the Premium model.
Aesthetically, the Nissan GT-R is neither a modernized E-Type nor a resurrection of the earliest Z cars, way back when they wore the Datsun badge. This car has none of the natural beauty of those cars, which looked like they'd gone directly to the showroom from whimsical sketches on a dinner napkin. What it does have is a sense of polished purpose, of function dictated by the need to slip through the air with minimal disturbance blended with a form shaped to let the eye flow over its lines and curves just as easily. Sort of a svelte Bauhausian ethic. All is not perfect, however, as here and there a styling cue hints of other, seriously lower level sporty and sports cars in a way that subconsciously jars the senses.
The grille design evokes the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. It's almost cause to wonder whether the stylists for the two cars studied under the same professors at design school. The GT-R's grille design, however, does multi-duty. Besides channeling air to the intercooler, radiators and climate control system's heat exchanger coils, the design enhances front downforce. The lower grille opening houses two, jet intake-like, side-mount scoops that cool the massive vented and drilled front brake discs and their full-floating, six-piston Brembo calipers. A polished, black, understated but effective chin spoiler extends beneath the front bumper like a lower lip. High-relief, lift-countering indents wrap around the lower corners of the front fenders. Pentagonal headlight housings fill the top of the fenders. Two functional NACA vents straddle the hood's power bulge.
The front fenders give the GT-R a broad-shouldered presence leading to a narrower, kind of pinched waist body section; think less dramatic Mazda RX-8. Narrow extractor vents that vacuum lift-inducing airflow from under the front end fit into a tall slot between the fenders' trailing edge and the side body panel. An awkward GT-R badge tries to imply motion by swooping back from the top of the vent but only serves to mar the sleek flanks. Fully recessed door handles pivot out a finger grip when the dimpled rear portion is pressed; immediately aft of that is an angled, rectangular button that unlocks the door, provided the RFID fitted key fob is within range.
Frameless door windows and fixed rear quarter windows taper sharply toward the rear, denying much-needed headroom for entering and exiting the car. One bystander said he thought Mustang at his first sight of the side windows and top, what Nissan calls an aero blade canopy roofline. The rear quarter panel balloons outward from the narrower mid-section just enough to cover the rear tires. The barest of a concentric blister highlights the perfectly circular front and rear wheelwells. The front end's polished black lower lip picks up after the front wheelwell and runs the length of the side body panels to the rear wheelwells, with the visual effect of masking just how close the GT-R sits to the road. Balancing the view through the seven-spoke wheels of the bright red front Brembo calipers are bright red, full-floating, four-piston rear Brembo calipers that clamp down on vented and drilled rear brake discs.
The mildly rounded but mostly vertical rear fascia holds symmetrical pairs of smaller and larger taillights and a sharply recessed license plate surround. The Nissan logo on the liftgate and a GT-R badge fit the car better than the GT-R swoop on the front quarter panel, although all four are unnecessary adornments. A slim rear wing, rounded in a droop at the ends to match the rear quarter panels' tumble, rides the trailing edge of the trunk lid. More of that polished black lower panel loops around the back end, hosting matched sets of dual exhaust tips and a fully integrated, carbon fiber rear diffuser. From this viewpoint, the one most drivers will see of the GT-R, it's difficult to believe the rear track is a mere 0.4 inches wider than the front track.
The interior of the Nissan GT-R echoes the ethic of the exterior, again nicely blending function and form. The only features for which a control seemed at first unintuitive were those not widely available in other cars, regardless of price or market niche.
The driver's seat feels form-fitted with its eight-way power adjustments. Bottom and side bolsters grip upper legs and torso with confidence. Thigh support is better than average. The front passenger seat has no height adjustment, as with most cars. This leaves the passenger peering out the front and side windows like some prairie dog popping its head up out of its hole in a field in Kansas.
There's more than adequate room in front for people up to several inches taller than six feet.
The rear seats are another story. Usable rear-seat legroom is zero, even with the front seats set for a 5-foot, 4-inch person. They're best considered as absorbent elements in an acoustic chamber for the Premium sound system's two subwoofers. Given the paucity of rear-seat room, there's little likelihood the GT-R will be asked to provide for more than the driver and a passenger for any length of time, so the 8.8 cubic feet of trunk space should be adequate for a long weekend road trip. At the same time, it's about right for a week's worth of groceries or a couple golf bags.
Trim materials are rich without being plush or luxurious. The padded parts look hand-stitched. Front-seat bolsters are leather, insets a faux suede that's the only part that comes up a bit short on presentation. The cabin is trimmed in low-luster, finely grained plastic and satin-finished aluminum. Lower door kick panels are a low-nap fabric. Seams and trim elements fit snugly, with no misalignments or unexpected gaps.
Buttons, switches and knobs give good and consistent tactile feel. Functions are all surface mounted, as in, not buried beneath some over-the-top, fancy-shmancy Super Knob perched on the center console waiting to frustrate all but the most technophile drivers. Getting comfortable with the LCD display and associated controls takes some time and effort, but they're more transparent and intuitive than they look. The stereo control head has a volume knob, a tuning knob and six buttons for station presets. Likewise with the climate control panel, which offers symmetrically placed and sized knobs and push buttons. A horizontal bar beneath the climate and stereo control panel houses levers for toggling between the three settings for suspension, shift points and VDC. Sadly, of the two power points, the most accessible for a radar detector is tucked away in the center console back between the front seats.
The instrument cluster holds four gauges and the LED gear indicator. The tachometer occupies the center space, with the speedometer conjoined off to the left; interesting, in a tempting sort of way, is the layout of the numbers on the speedometer. They start with 0 mph at about the 4 o'clock position, 120 mph at 9 o'clock and 220 mph between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock. The other two gauges, to the right of the tachometer with the gear indicator, show coolant temperature and fuel level. Readouts for the remaining engine-related vitals are accessible through the LCD display.
Visibility out the front and to the sides is good. Rear quarter and back window sight lines aren't so good. That rear spoiler doesn't block enough of the rear window to obscure whether that car filling the rearview mirror is a police car or just someone in a Crown Vic. And the ballooning rear fenders encourage setting the outside mirrors at wide enough angles that the ever present blind spot doesn't hide as much as usual.
Drivers can tailor the multi-layered information center to provide display data on the LCD on front/rear torque distribution; lateral, longitudinal and total overall G-forces; inputs from accelerator, brake pedal and steering wheel; lap times; as well as engine coolant temperature, oil pressure, turbo boost, and fuel economy. The driver can record this data, for example to gather data during a track session.
The Nissan GT-R is meant to be enjoyed from inside, behind the wheel, not by scanning a specification sheet or gazing longingly at it in a parking lot. And from the driver's seat, it's better by quantum leaps than all these impressive data and great styling treatments promise.
The power curve is so nearly linear it's hard to believe the engine is turbocharged. Somewhere around 3500 rpm, there's the slightest bump, but it feels more like an engine coming on cam than two afterburner boosters stepping in. Shifts are quick and smooth, whether left to the transaxle's digital brain or managed by the driver's fingertips. Even with the transaxle in the R setting, which both sharpens the shifts and spreads them to higher performance points on the engine's power curve, gear changes are as certain as and less neck-snapping than those in the Ferrari F430 of a couple years ago, and with which the GT-R compares most favorably in every visceral and statistical measure, not least being price.
Drivers get to choose between three settings: Normal, Comfort, or R (for Race) for the suspension, transmission shift points, and the Vehicle Dynamic Control system's various algorithms, all of which work together in an attempt to keep the car within the confines of the inviolate laws of physics notwithstanding the self-perceived prowess of the driver.
Launch Control is a particularly enticing feature for drivers insisting on enjoying the GT-R to its absolute max. To engage Launch Control: Toggle up and hold the R levers for the transaxle and for the suspension until the little lights come on, and toggle down and hold the R lever for the VDC until that light comes on; the first two engage the R settings, the last turns off the VDC. Next, nudge the shift lever to the right, into the M mode. With the left foot on the brake pedal and the fingers of the right hand on the shift paddle, mash the throttle. The engine will spin up to and hold at 4500 rpm. Slip the left foot off the brake pedal and be ready to tug that shift paddle, as the engine will hit the rev limiter in first gear almost instantaneously. The rear tires will leave 10 or 12 feet of black dash marks while the traction control fights to hook them up, and then it's nothing but supremely balanced distribution of power to the tires with the best grip. It's useful for drag racing or F1-style standing starts.
The GT-R is equally competent driving quickly down twisting two-lane roads as it is a pleasure chugging along in the daily commute. Its 62 inch track (distance between the wheels side to side), large tire contact patches and 53/47 front/rear weight distribution deliver almost perfect response to steering inputs, with no hint of oversteer (where the rear of the car slides out) or understeer (where the car doesn't want to turn). It tracks confidently through corners, making slight adjustments to the line in response to changing pressure on the gas pedal. It straightens esses with ease, giving the driver clear indicators when transit speeds approach inadvisable levels.
The massive brakes never showed a hint of fade after miles of hard running, hauling the GT-R down time and again from high speeds to tight, first gear corners.
Obviously, those lesser-populated two-lanes are the GT R's preferred habitat, but it doesn't complain about sharing a crowded urban freeway or schlepping around town on weekend errands. The all-wheel-drive does, however, scrub the front tires on slow, tight turns, particularly noticeable in parking lots.
A cautionary note about ride quality: Toggle down the R lever for the suspension to get the Comfort setting. It's not that the Normal setting will have freeway expansion joints or railroad grade crossings sending drivers to the dentist to have their fillings re-glued, but the difference is substantial, and appreciated. In this measure, as well as in most others, from interior comfort to overall performance, the GT-R is on par with the best of what might be considered the competition, including the top Corvettes and Porsches and the BMW M6.
This is a hot rod, however. There are noticeable mechanical sounds from the clutches in the transaxle. First thought is that something back there needs some tightening. But after a while, when the link between the clicks and the gear changes becomes obvious, that initial worry fades. Those are the sounds of a high-performance mechanical beast. Road noise and wind noise are about what we expect in a modern supercar: There, but not intrusive. The stereo masks the most audible.
The GT-R is not the most fuel-efficient car on the road, which is not surprising. EPA estimates are 16/21 mpg City/Highway.
The GT-R's long awaited arrival stateside has stoked a lot of anticipatory fires. Thankfully, for Nissan, the car lives up to the build up. From performance, both on the spec sheet and on the road, to styling and design, both inside and out, it's everything that was expected and more.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Sacramento, in California's northern Central Valley.
Nissan GT-R ($69,850); Premium ($71,900).
Options As Tested
premium paint ($3000).
Nissan GT-R Premium ($71,900).
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